About Us: History

Garden City Ballet is Built on Family, Community, Ingenuity, and High Standards


Kitty van der Linde, a local dance teacher in Missoula, founded the Garden City Ballet Company (GCB) in 1984. The first Nutcracker was held at the University Theatre for four nights in December of that year; the entire show cost less than $5,000 and featured approximately 60 performers.


Kitty graduated from the Brabants Conservatory of Music and Dance (Fonty's) in the Netherlands. In addition to GCB, Kitty also founded the Garden City Wooden Shoe Dancers (1981) and Sweetwater County Ballet Guild in Green River, Wyoming (1985). Experienced in choreography and pedagogy, Miss Kitty produced The Nutcracker for five years in the early 80s, while teaching partnering classes at the Third Street Studio in Missoula. Miss Kitty has performed in Europe and the U.S., and also has experience in television.


"Garden City Ballet had (at that time) the wooden shoe dancers—this was my way of holding onto my heritage—I taught them to dance in real wooden shoes…I choreographed the dances, shortened the outfit (they were in the colors of the Dutch flag), had my parents send me the real wooden shoes, and we were off. The original GCB Company Productions were the creative outlet for my choreography and direction. It was my baby." 

- Kitty


After Kitty began this labor of love, it was taken over by Jan Snow, during which time GCB became a non-profit corporation.


"As a child growing up in Montana there was little in the way of training and performing opportunities in classical ballet at a professional level. As the Artistic Director of Garden City Ballet I had the opportunity to develop a company rich in the classical ballet tradition which enabled our young dancers to both experience the joy of dancing and the ability to compete on a national level." - Jan


In 1999 Michele Antonioli, long-time Missoula ballet teacher and faculty member at the University of Montana, took the reins and brought her brand of unique sensitivity to the production.


“My most poignant memories have to do with standing backstage during a performance and watching young and mature dancers on stage–doing what they do so beautifully and with such commitment…and at the same time observing the dancers and parents off stage eagerly watching the action from another perspective. This kind of intense creative adventure offers opportunities to weld families, friends and communities together in a common cause that fosters incredible memories for everyone. I love that." - Michele


Michele passed the baton to Artistic Director Pam Copley in 2002, and Pam continued our mission of giving the young ballet dancers of Missoula the opportunity to grow in their craft while nurturing them through the family experience that is The Nutcracker.


"I love every second of being at the theatre during that final week of rehearsals. Watching the younger children’s faces glow with excitement and the seasoned dancers count down the weeks until they perform yet another Nutcracker provides memories I will never forget. It is a magical experience for a child to grow up dancing in The Nutcracker each Christmas. What a treasure the Garden City Ballet has been for myself and the people of Missoula." - Pam


In 2008 Michael Murphy came on board as the Producing Director. Michael’s background in directing for the theater and acting was a wonderful addition to the creative team. He restructured the Nutcracker script, as well as worked with set designers to raise the level of production to an all-time high.


“I am a huge believer in creating opportunities in the arts for our children, particularly in those areas that involve collaboration and a focus on excellence. The energy generated by inspiring each other is much greater than any of us can muster alone.” - Michael


December 2009 marked GCB's 25th anniversary, and The Nutcracker has grown in ambition and stature to have a budget of approximately $100,000 and over 100 performers. The 2010 Nutcracker featured choreography by Pam Copley, Nutcracker guest star and Ballet Arts Academy teacher Colleen Rosbarsky, and former American Ballet Theatre dancer Matthew Murphy, who played Fritz in GCB’s 1992 production.

In 2011, Mike Verdon took the reins from Michael Murphy. Mike's acting career with GCB goes back 19 years, including his unforgettable role as Herr Drosselmeyer for the past few seasons. His background in theater combined with his intimate knowledge of The Nutcracker made him an ideal choice for this new leadership role. Mike directed in 2012 as well, working alongside assistant director/choreographer Colleen Rosbarsky.


The baton was once again passed back to Director Michael Murphy for the 2013 season of The Nutcracker. New staging, costumes, and choreography no doubt delighted audiences!

For the 2014 season, GCB celebrated its 30th anniversary and was delighted to welcome back former Director, Michele Antonioli. Michele brings a lifetime of ballet expertise and decades of dedication to Missoula's own Nutcracker; lucky for us, she directed the 2015, 2016, and 2017 productions before deciding to retire and free up her time to be with grandchildren. 


Jordan Dehline Burt was thrilled to take the reins as Artistic Director for the 2018 season. She has choreographed for six GCB Nutcracker seasons, and grew up dancing every year in her hometown's production of The Nutcracker as well. Dehline Burt works in the Missoula County Public Schools as a Dance Teaching Artist for SPARK!, which has allowed her to build relationships with students all over Missoula. She is also on faculty at Ballet Arts Academy (BAA), is Co-Artistic Director of BAA's Studio Company, and serves as the studio's Office Manager.


This holiday favorite has touched the lives, young and old, of more members of our community than can be counted — who continue to find the magical blend of Tchaikovsky’s music and ballet irresistible. The show’s evolution and increasing professionalism have been made possible by a continually active volunteer Board of Directors that embraced these changes and who maintain a relationship with the University of Montana.

Garden City Ballet has come a long way since Kitty first dreamed about producing a Christmas ballet for her students and Missoula audiences. We look forward to many more years ahead, and thank you for joining us on the journey.